A perfect storm has come to Toronto, and for the first time in the history of the league, the Larry O’Brien trophy heads to Canada. It’s also the first time since 2015 that we’ve seen a new champion not named Warriors or Cavaliers.
We take a look at the ingredients that helped make the Raptors the new NBA Champions.
Masai Ujiri’s Gambit
It was a gamble that could have backfired. Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri laid it all down and went all in when he traded then well-loved Raptor DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard. At that time there was a cloud of uncertainty on Leonard’s ethic, as a much-publicized tiff with the San Antonio Spurs’s management had teams questioning his loyalties.
Ujiri was unfazed. Many were questioning the move, especially as DeRozan was still a viable centerpiece for any NBA team to build a franchise around. A gutsy move by Ujiri, that apparently has now paid dividends.
GSW Pieces Came Falling Down
Much credit is given to the Raptors’s tenacity and grit, but sports enthusiasts cannot discount the net effect of a depleted Warriors lineup in a series where no lead can ever be safe. Kevin Durant injured his calf in the Western Conference Semi-Finals against the Houston Rockets, and valiantly played in Game 5 of the Finals, just as GSW faced elimination. The Warriors won, but it cost Durant: He tore his Achilles in that game.
In Game 6, Klay Thompson went down hard on his knee at a crucial point in the third quarter. When Thompson went out, GSW lacked the firepower to push themselves towards a Game 7.
Small-town Boy Makes it Big
Nick Nurse was the offensive coordinator of the Raptors during the time of head coach Dwayne Casey. When Casey was fired, Nurse was promoted to the head coaching position. It was an awkward time for the Raptors, as Ujiri was close to dealing DeRozan for Kawhi, and Casey was subsequently named Coach of the Year shortly after his firing.
But Nurse was no lackey: he’s been credited for the smooth offensive transition of the Raptors towards a more passing and 3-point shooting offense. During the 2017-2018 season, the Raptors was at the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the NBA. Nurse would continue with his brand of offense, and proved to be a perfect fit for the 2018-2019 roster.
Fred Vanvleet, that’s who.
Undrafted in the 2016 NBA Draft, the firebrand guard showed his true potential this season, posting career-highs that would help propel the Raptors towards the NBA Finals.
In this series against the Warriors, VanVleet would come up with crucial shots, seemingly all as the shot-clock buzzer was about to sound. Now you know.
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Phil Handy is regarded as the league’s best skill development coach. He once worked for the Lakers, developing the footwork and agility of Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. He then moved to the Cleveland Cavaliers where he honed the skills of Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and Kevin Love. Now serving as the assistant coach of Toronto Raptors, Handy’s knowledge has helped the offense of Leonard, Lowry, Ibaka and the rest of the starting lineup.
Last OG Standing
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) June 14, 2019
Kyle Lowry, in his seventh season as a Raptor, is the franchise’s longest active player on the roster. He made the crucial plays in this series: the perfect pass, the decisive pull up, the key layup. He was also the one keeping every one in line when people started cheering Durant’s injury in Game 5. Shortly after hoisting the trophy, he said he will FaceTime DeRozan. “I love him and I know he (is) happy for me right now,” he said.
I-Block-A and Siakam
Yeah, we’re quoting Jeff Van Gundy. But there really is no better way to emphasize Serge Ibaka’s contribution on defense. And as if that wasn’t enough, Ibaka also provided the some critical offensive firepower at times when the Raptors need them the most.
Ibaka’s towering might, together with the long arms of Pascal Siakam, also proved too much for the Warriors’s Demarcus Cousins, who looked lost in the court at times.
Speaking of Siakam, Draymond Green was simply no match for the youngster. Siakam would run rings around Green’s notoriously sticky defense.
What else is there to say about Kawhi that has not been said before? He was the glue that held this championship together. If that deal with the Spurs did not work out to the Raptors’s advantage, none of this would be possible.
Leonard would pace himself all throughout the first three quarters of this series, and when the crucial fourth period comes around, you can practically hear the gears click. And when the Klaw kicks in, well, Vince Carter aptly said it.
What are your thoughts on this Raptors Championship? Tell us below!